With all the intricacies of the rules on our wildlife management area hunts, you need to start getting ready now for the action. Here's a look at the places where you can find walk-up hunts this year. (July 2010)
It's still summer, but the archery hunting for deer is just around the corner. And this year, it's going to be a different season from years past.
No matter where you are, you need to closely monitor season dates for this year, because they've changed. If you're in the South Zone -- now renamed Zone A--you're going to be hunting earlier. Archery season on private land starts July 31, 2010. In most of what was the Central Zone -- and now Zone C -- archery action starts on the third Saturday in September. Zone B -- a portion of the old Central Zone in the Green Swamp basin of Polk, Hillsborough and north Pinellas counties -- archery season won't start until the third Saturday in October. Finally, in Zone D -- the old Northwest Zone, but with a slight boundary adjustment -- hunting will begin Oct. 23, 2010.
These dates are designed so that gun season falls during the rut, which means bowhunters will be hunting the pre-rut in most parts of the state. However, the new season dates do not necessarily correspond to the hunting dates on public land, some of which remain the same and some of which have changed.
The bottom line is you need to play it safe and check the regulations before heading to any area for the first time this year.
Regardless of when the action begins, there continues to be a multitude of places to bowhunt throughout Florida. In order to give you the best idea of where to look on public land under this new Zone system, we've grouped the Wildlife Management Areas according to the new zone boundaries. Each of the WMAs discussed have all or part of the archery season open for walk-up hunting with no quota permit required.
Zone A remains that portion of the state south of State Route 70. Its deer season now starts nearly a month and a half earlier, with July 31 as the new opening day for archery season on private land.
J. W. Corbett WMA is your best bet for archery season in Zone A. This area is slightly more than 60,000 acres, and is in Palm Beach and Martin counties. It's primarily pine flatwoods, cypress domes, and ponds.
This is one of the older areas in the WMA system, purchased by the State of Florida and the old Game and Fresh Water Fish Commission in the 1940s. Its timber was completely cut over then, but now supports some good stands of pines again. In those areas, look for a typical South Florida palmetto understory, with a lot of ponds interspersed throughout the area.
Access to Corbett is better than on some of the other southern WMAs. A series of trails run off road into the interior, providing that access.
No special permits are required during archery season.
This is the smallest of the four new zones and is basically the greater Tampa Bay area. In part, it's made up of the Green Swamp Basin. This new zone lies south of SR 50, west of U.S. Highway 441 and the Kissimmee Waterway, north of SR 60 and east of the Gulf of Mexico.
Because this is such a small zone, public hunting opportunities here are limited.
The Baird Unit of Richloam WMA is your best bet for archery action. However, be aware that the first nine days of the season on the tract are reserved for quota permit holder. After that, all hunters are free to use the WMA. Be sure of your dates before you go!
The Baird Unit is located in Sumter County and is just a little over 11,000 acres. There are, however, some patches of closed or private land inside the WMA. This is one area that requires careful scrutiny of the map before you go.
Zone C follows roughly the boundaries of the old Central Zone, with the southern boundary remaining the same as before. However, the north boundary has been moved slightly west. The new line dividing zones C and D begins at U.S. 27 at the Gadsden County/Georgia state line and runs south along U.S. 27 until it meets SR 61 in Tallahassee. From there, it follows SR 61 south until reaching U.S. 319. There the line follows U.S. 319 south to U.S. 98. It then runs east along U.S. 98 before turning south on Spring Creek Highway (SR 365) and continuing to the Gulf of Mexico.
Arbuckle WMA, located in Polk County, is a good place to bowhunt despite the fact that the habitat doesn't seem too conducive to a good deer population. It has kind of a scrubby habitat, with a lot of sandhills, with the entire area in uplands. There are minimum antler restrictions on the area, so typically it's a fairly good area for big deer.
You need a permit to hunt Arbuckle WMA, but they're issued on a first come, first served basis at the check station. The area covers slightly more than 13,500 acres.
Chassahowitzka WMA in Hernando County requires a quota permit for the first nine days, but after that is open to all hunters. This 33,000-acre area can be hard to hunt. About a third of it is flatwoods and sandhills, with the rest a wet swamp. However, hunters take some large deer out of it.
Two units of the Big Bend WMA -- Tide Swamp and Hickory Mound -- are good places to hunt in this zone. Both units have similar habitat, with some hardwood hammocks, a lot of flatwoods, and some sandhills.
There have been several timber operations going on in recent years, including some slash pine thinning. This could mean better browse for the deer in these areas.
Tide Swamp has a 3-point rule that Hickory Mound doesn't have, but other than that the management of both units is pretty much the same.
Hickory Mound Unit covers almost 14,500 acres in Taylor County, with the Econfina River on its western boundary. Tide Swamp Unit is more than 19,500 acres, and is in Taylor County.
Log Landing WMA is another area with good possibilities. Located right along the Suwannee River in Dixie County, it has a good amount of flood plain swamp. Because it's a fairly new area, it hasn't been heavily hunted yet. However, it's a small area of only a little more than 1,100 acres, so it won't accommodate a lot of hunting pressure.
Joe Budd WMA in Gadsden County is always a good place for deer. Although it doesn't have a general gun season, Joe Budd has archery and muzzleloading gun hunts through the period of time when the rest of the state is open for general gun hunting. It does require a quota permit, but half of them are wal
k-up permits issued at the check station.
Year in and year out, Joe Budd is a quality area for hunting. It has a variety of habitats and a varied topography, which is rare for Florida. Since this area has gone to a three points on a side minimum antler rule, it's starting to build up a larger population of mature bucks.
Joe Budd spreads over slightly more than 11,000 acres.
Blackwater WMA is another good area to check out. It's a huge area covering more than 191,000 acres. Hunters can find spots that don't receive a lot of pressure, if they spend some time scouting.
Blackwater has some beautiful longleaf pine and wiregrass habitat. There are creek drainages that go through the area that have thicker cover and provide a lot of good funnels for hunters to set up on.
Blackwater WMA is located in Okaloosa and Santa Rosa counties.
Upper Chipola River WMA is a relatively small area, covering only a little more than 7,000 acres in Jackson County. It is difficult to hunt because access is tough. The best way to enter is by boat, and most of the habitat is riverine swamp. Many hunters skip hunting it because of the access issues, but if you like a challenge, it could be a good place to find solitude and a quality buck.
Pine Log WMA in Bay and Washington counties covers slightly less than 7,000 acres. Because it's so small it won't support a lot of pressure. Nonetheless, it has a decent deer population and could be a place for bowhunters to bring out some nice deer.
This WMA has an archery-only area, so even during general gun season you can get in with your bow without being disturbed by gun hunters. However, be aware that there also is some private property within the boundaries of Pine Log, and one other section is closed to hunting entirely.
Apalachee WMA is an area that's been around quite a while. It's located in Jackson County right along Lake Seminole and the Chattahoochee River. Part of the area has planted fields in it, which attracts the deer. The entire area is only 7,900 acres, so it won't support a lot of pressure.
Permits are required on Apalachee WMA, but they're first-come, first-served zone tags available at the check station on the day of the hunts.
Escambia River WMA is a fairly large area in Escambia and Santa Rosa counties, covering more than 34,000 acres. This is another area for which access is difficult. It follows the Escambia River, and the most effective access is by small boat or canoe. You'll be hunting in a lot of river swamp here, however, so it's potentially a good area if you can get into it.